Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Virginia
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Virginia Project

Ecosystem services in the Roanoke River basin

March 2018 - November 2019


Participating Agencies

  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

1) Advance understanding of the relationships among human and natural systems in the RRB;
2) Equip stakeholders with information to support land conservation, river restoration, and sustainable
economic development actions;
3) Apply and test selected tools and techniques designed to assess ecosystem services.

We explored economic outcomes from potential resource management actions that can affect the value of key ecosystem services in the region, focusing on recreation, urban and agricultural runoff, coal ash, and uranium mining. Initial ecosystem service assessments provide baseline values of ecosystem services such as air quality, water supply, protection from extreme events, and soil formation based on the land cover distribution in the region. Annual ecosystem service value in the Roanoke River Basin is estimated to total $14.7 billion, including over $6.6 billion in recreational value, $2.3 billion in food/nutritional value, and $1.4 billion in water flows. After performing a baseline ecosystem service assessment, we sought input from stakeholders, including watershed organizations, landowners, town planners, and state officials. We held community workshops to gauge regional perspective on ecosystem services and the environmental issues potentially affecting their value. The key ecosystem services cited most frequently by stakeholders included fishing and other water-based recreational activities, access to high quality drinking water, habitat for species, aesthetic values, and erosion control. Improvements in water quality can result from management actions such as creating or increasing riparian buffers, implementing urban and agricultural Best Management Practices, and municipal stormwater management upgrades. In turn, these can result in greater spending on trip-related purchases such as food, travel, kayak rentals, etc., which benefits local communities. Forested riparian buffers are one of the most cost-effective management tools for maintaining and improving water quality while providing recreational opportunities, erosion control, and other ecosystem services to nearby and downstream communities. Ecosystem services at risk from uranium extraction and disposal include groundwater and surface water quality, aesthetic value, air quality, and recreation. The key ecosystem services currently inhibited or damaged by coal ash include drinking water quality, recreation, habitat for species, and aesthetic value.